African dwarf frog: Food, lifespan, tank size, mates and breeding

African dwarf frog wild

The African dwarf frog is a type of aquatic frog originating in Equatorial Africa.

It is common throughout the pet trade, and is often mistaken in the same family for the African clawed frog, a similar-looking frog.

Also recognized as dwarf clawed frogs are African dwarf frogs (Hymenochirus) Their common name comes from their place of origin and the grips on their forelegs.

There are a total of four species commonly known as African Dwarf Frog: Hymenochirus boettgeri, Hymenochirus boulengeri, Hymenochirus curtipes, and Hymenochirus feae.

All four frogs look very similar and do not have many distinguishing features; their native locations are the main difference between those frogs.

  • Hymenochirus boettgeri is found in the CAR, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.
  • Hymenochirus boulengeri is endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the north-east.
  • Hymenochirus Curtipes are found in the Republic of Congo.

They ‘re all small, fully aquatic amphibians weighing only a few ounces each and reaching a maximum size of 3 inches.

It is very common for the African Clawed Frog to be mistaken for them. They look quite similar but the Clawed Frog is more aggressive and bigger.

Keep this in mind when you buy your first frog, and always do your own research to know what you are buying instead of relying on labels that might be wrong.

Taxonomy

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Pipidae
Genus: Hymenochirus
Type species
Xenopus boettgeri

Description

African dwarf frogs live underwater their entire lives, but they have to rise to the surface to breathe air since they have lungs and not gills.

These frogs are tiny in size and weigh no more than a few grams. They vary in colour, with black spots ranging mostly from olive green to brown.

These frogs’ average life expectancy is five years but they can live for as long as 20 years and grow to 3 inches (7.5 cm ) long.

When young, African dwarf frogs of the genus Xenopus can be mistaken for and sold as African clawed frogs, which are larger and much more aggressive than the dwarf.

All species of Pipidae are tongueless, toothless, and entirely aquatic. They use their webbed feet to shove food in their mouths and down their throats, and even a hyobranchial pump in their mouths to draw or suck food.

Pipidae have potent legs for swimming and lunging after eating. The claws on their feet are also used to tear pieces of large food.

They lack true ears, but they have lateral lines running down their length of body and undersides; that’s how they can feel movement and vibration in the water.

To find food, they use their sensitive fingers, sense of smell and lateral line system. These frogs have tiny black claws on their hind legs, which caused one of their discoverers, Oskar Boettger, to originally call them African dwarf clawed frogs, but that in the sharp pebble environments they quickly lose these black tips, and are more commonly called African dwarf frogs now.

African dwarf frog behaviour:

African Dwarf Frogs are very amusing add-ons to your tank. They are nocturnal creatures so when the sun goes down they will be most active. They will spend a lot of time swimming in the water, as a fully aquatic frog, occasionally rising to the surface to breathe.

These frogs can not spend much time out of the water because after only 15-20 minutes, they will dehydrate and die.

They don’t have gills like fish, instead they have fully formed lungs. They ‘re going to swim very fast for air to the surface, and then go back straight a second later.

Another very common funny and peculiar type of behaviour with these frogs is known as the ‘zen position.’

You could witness your frogs floating without moving on the surface of the water, with their arms and legs stretched out. This is entirely normal, even if they sometimes look dead!

You could hear them singing, as well. An adult male gets a female attracted by making a quiet buzzing sound.

African Dwarf Frog Appearance

African dwarf frog under water

African Dwarf Frogs are olive to brownish frogs of green colour. Even though they all tend to vary in colour, their bodies all have distinctive black spots.

These frogs are small amphibians which grow no more than 3 inches and weigh only a few ounces each.
Frogs in the family Pipidae have common features such as no tongues and no teeth.

This means they have webbed feet which are then used to help them move around but also to feed themselves literally.

They also have a buccal cavity that can draw in water , allowing them to eat by sucking into their mouth water.

These other frogs have no ears, so how do they know their surroundings? They have special lateral sensory lines along their body that senses motion and vibrations.

Males and females exhibit minor differences. Generally speaking, females are a bit bigger with a more distinct genital region , known as the ovipositor.

Males on the other hand, each front leg has a small visible gland behind it.

This gland’s exact function is still not well understood but the common belief is that it has something to do with mating.

In the wild habitat

This wild African frog habitat is made up of shallow rivers , creeks and ponds during the dry season and during the wet season in the flooded areas of the forests.

These creatures prefer eating close to the bottom where their coloring blends with the litter of mud and leaf and they can be safe from predators.

Males are slim and develop a small gland behind each of their front legs; this gland wasn’t very well understood, but is believed to play some part in mating.

The gland is a small white spot on both sides, a minor outward bulge on both sides of the frog. Males are known to “sing” or “hum” during mating or when they’re excited, although sometimes they “hum” even if they don’t intend to mating.

When fully mature, this species’ females are 40 per cent larger than males. Those who have pear-shaped bodies, as their abdomens fill with eggs as they reach a mating stage.

The females have a much more pronounced genital region called an ovipositor, another distinction.
African dwarf frogs mate in amplex, where the male grabs the female in front of her back legs around the abdomen.

The female becomes motionless and may twitch sporadically on her fore limbs. Amplexus usually occurs in the night after the male “humming” one or more nights.

The female swims during amplexus, laying eggs on the water surface, one at a time, while towing the male.

She swimmes between layers to the bottom. During this time, the male fertilises the eggs by releasing sperm into the water. The amplex can take several hours to last.

When the female has laid all her eggs she signals the male again by going motionless, and after a few minutes the male releases the female and returns to her normal behaviour.

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Habitat and tank requirements

The name is a bit of a give-away, so it’s no surprise to learn that African Dwarf Frogs come from Africa! They are found in tropical forests, within the freshwaters of Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, all the way to the Congo River Basin.

Here the environment is rather humid and warm. Light is really important; they are nocturnal animals and are used to a 10-12 hour cycle of light and darkness.

These frogs need water or a very humid environment to survive.

As with all the fish, it is best to set up the tank, and create the right environment before purchasing the frog.

African Dwarf Frog tank setup

Make sure that the environment above the water is high in humidity – this way they won’t get dehydrated if the frog leaps out from the water.

As already mentioned, light is quite important. These frogs have been used to regular light and dark periods, so set your lights on a timer to ensure that the lights are in a 10-12 hour cycle.

Like other reptiles or amphibians, they don’t need fancy lighting; you just can buy a normal LED aquarium light.

Because their skin is very sensitive to chemicals, you’ll need to buy a good filter and a water test kit to ensure that they always have the best quality of water. Always perform water checks when you do your weekly water change of 20 percent. These are the water parameters for the idea for your tank:

  • Temperature 72-78 degrees F
  • PH 6.5–7.8
  • GH: GH: 5-20
  • KH: 4-15 Figures

You can use either sand or gravel for substrate. If you are buying gravel, make sure the grains are large enough not to be swallowed by the frog.

You shouldn’t get a strong movement in water. These frogs don’t like strong flows of water as they occasionally like being motionless in the water.

Although frogs breathe normal air, you may want to consider buying an air pump or air stone to keep the water quality optimal away from your tank, and bad anaerobic bacteria.

However, they are quite sensitive to noise and vibrations so you can isolate it from the tank glass to avoid this problem if you want to include a pump.

For these reasons you also might want to consider adding a layer of insulation between the tank and the stand, like Styrofoam or a piece of carpet.

These Frogs appreciate live plants as well. You can either put in floating plants, like Hornwort or other rooted plants like Java Fern.

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African Dwarf Frog tank size

Most people start with a 10-gallon tank which is large enough to organise a small 4-5 frog community. You can also use a tank of 20 gallons, but make sure that the water is not too deep to allow your frogs to swim for air easily.

Two gallons of water per frog should be allowed in.

African dwarf frogs tank mates:

They are great for freshwater tropical common tanks. Make sure you keep well fed your frogs and fish and ideal water conditions, and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Perfect tank mates include small peaceful fish such as livebearers (Guppies, Mollies and Platies), as well as Corydoras, Danios, schooling Tetras such as Neon Tetra, Serpae Tetra and the Rummy Nose Tetra.

Also, if you’re looking for other companions, the Cherry, Ghost and Bamboo shrimp together with snail species can be a good addition to that.

However, snails and shrimps may be considered food, so add them carefully.

African Dwarf Frog and betta

Are African dwarf frog and betta compatible together? The answer is yes, you can be wary of keeping these two together. Really it comes down to your Betta ‘s individual temperament. Some Bettas are really aggressive whilst others are not going to bother a frog.

If the Betta is aggressive, it could bully your frog and ultimately kill it, so if you decide to add both to a tank, look carefully at them to make sure they are compatible.

African Dwarf Frog Feeding and Diet

While African Dwarf Frogs are considered omnivores, they still prefer a meaty diet. Try and keep a varied diet to make sure they receive all the nutrients needed for a healthy frog.

A plethora of prepared foods are available that should form the basis of their diet. Usually basing on pellets.

A variety of treats can also be given to your frog a few times a week, including fish fry, mosquito larvae, bloodworms, brine shrimps, krill and earthworms.

Feed them beef heart as an extra tasty treat but give it only once a month because it is very fatty.

Whether you feed them live or frozen food is down to your personal preference, most of the above foods can be found either frozen or alive.

When they’re still young, feed your frogs once a day but you can feed them less as they mature.

As an adult, you need to feed your frogs once every 2 days. You should feed them bites of small size and only feed them in 15 minutes, which they can easily eat.

Do not over-feed them, as this can lead to obesity and poor quality of water, resulting in stressed fish. Try not to leave unfed food in the tank, and remove after 20 minutes anything they have not eaten.

If your frog doesn’t eat well and is particularly fussy, you may need to use tweezers to feed directly on them. Try to almost squeeze the food on their faces, so they could see it and eat it.

African Dwarf Frog Care

Your frogs may also be a danger to you, as an amphibian. They are not venomous, but these amphibians are capable of carrying lots of bacteria, usually on their skin or feces.

Salmonella is the most frequently found bacteria which is quite problematic for humans. Do not touch your frog, instead wear an aquarium net. Use gloves if you need to handle them, and wash your hands before and after handling every time.

Try avoiding placing anything sharp such as gravel or decorations in the tank, as they are rather sensitive. Try protecting in and outlets too so the frog can’t get stuck.

One of the commonest diseases is called dropsy. This condition is usually deadly and is the results of a mix of different conditions. Your frog will start to bloat showing sign of pain or distress. Unfortunately, a lot of different things can cause this, ranging from parasites to bacterial infections.

It is sometimes treatable, and sometimes contagious, depending on the cause. If you suspect a dropsy check with an amphibian-specialist vet.

Other problems you may encounter are infections with the fungi or bacteria. Fungal infections appear on the skin of the frogs as bubbling patches.

As a pet

African dwarf frogs are often discovered as pets. They became popular for the first time in the 1970s and have spread all over the world to pet trade.

They are desirable pets as compared to other amphibians due to their low maintenance requirements. African clawed frogs are often mistakenly sold as African dwarf frogs. However, the astute pet owner can acknowledge the difference because:

  • Dwarf frogs are webbed with four feet. African clawed frogs have webbed hind feet, with autonomous digits on their front feet.
  • African dwarf frogs have eyes on the sides of their heads whereas African clawed frogs have eyes on their heads’ tops. Clawed African frogs have curved, flat snouts.
  • African dwarf frogs are very active, and seldom sit still for any time.

The African dwarf frog, when stationary, was known to float on the surface of the water at one spot, with its limbs completely extended. This is normal behavior, known as ‘burbling.’

Sometimes they just float with outstretched limbs, drifting on the surface. African dwarf frogs are generally peaceful with animals of their own size but sometimes smaller animals are included in their diet.

Fish is known to eat those frogs’ eggs. Most of the time African dwarf frogs spend near the bottom of the water where they consider safe from predators.

Most frogs sleep up to 12 hours a day, provided there is no threat from predators. Given their social nature, these frogs are suggested to be kept in a group of two or more.

Even though African dwarf frog is fully aquatic, he still needs to be able to reach the surface for breathing. These amphibians are not great swimmers, therefore water currents should be kept low, and deep tanks may pose a challenge to their breathing ability.

In the wild, the Congo forest floods up to a depth of 24 inches or more each year, so any depth less than that would be appropriate.

They should also be kept in an enclosure with a secure cover to avoid escape and plenty of hiding spaces, as they tend to be prey to a variety of animals in the wild and cause skittish behavior in open spaces.

The frogs eat just about any smaller fish. The optimal temperature for the water is 75–82 ° F. The pH of the water should be kept between 6.5 and 7.5.

These frogs can not sustain in low humidity, as they dry out, out of water for more than 20 minutes.

Even though they are fragile animals, when handling African dwarf frogs, care should be taken, especially when considering them as a pet for young children.

These frogs should only be kept outside the tank for a maximum of 5-10 minutes, but it is better not to carry Salmonella both for the safety of the frog and the child.

Do African Dwarf Frog need land?

African dwarf frog are aquatic in nature. But if they jump out of your tank and land anywhere but water, they ‘re going to die. African dwarf frogs live their entire life underwater, but need to rise to the surface to breathe air because they have lungs and not gills. African dwarf frogs are fully aquatic in nature, meaning they have to be living in water.

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